Sunday, July 22, 2012

Review: "The Dark Knight Rises", and Nolan's 'Batman Trilogy'

I, like most of the world, was prepared to do all kinds of bodily harm to anyone who spoiled anything about The Dark Knight Rises.  If you feel similarly, I suggest you cease and disist now if you have not seen it yet.

(That's how us cool people say: Spoilers)

When The Dark Knight ended I immediately couldn't wait for the third film to come out, and as soon as the credits rolled on The Dark Knight Rises, I immediately knew why. It was not simply because Dark Knight was a brilliant, exciting film, it wasn't the fact that I knew the third film would be was because the story wasn't finished. For this reason I have also found an answer to my naive prediction that the third film 'wouldn't be better than The Dark Knight'. And it's not. It's not...because the films are incomparable to one another. 

Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises are, in many ways, a crystal-clear example of what a trilogy should be: one story. Each of these films are imperative to one another's success and the story wouldn't be complete without all three. Batman Begins represents, obviously, the origin of the hero, the story, the world of the film. The Dark Knight showcases the heyday of Batman in Gotham City. For this reason, it will probably remain the favorite of most fans, probably myself included. It includes The Joker, Batman's archenemy, who I have no doubt would have appeared in the third film if not for Heath Ledger's death (just as Scarecrow appears in all three films). 

As a die-hard Batman fan, I know that The Joker Vs Batman is the ultimate villain-hero matchup. So putting it in the middle of the story was exactly where it belonged, because he was the heart of what Batman fought against. But Tom Hardy's Bane delivered an excellent concluding punch to the series in The Dark Knight Rises. The third and final film concluded Bruce Wayne's time as Batman in Gotham , and left his character, as well as those of Gordon, Fox and Alfred fully developed, and beloved. 

So which is the best one? I don't believe anyone can ever claim they think one is 'the best', only which part of the story they like the most.  But what you're here to see is my thoughts on the finale, so let's get to it.

I thought it was a brilliant final chapter to the story. I don't think I need to review it as a standalone film, because never pretends to act as one. If you didn't see the first two, you were not ready, or meant, to see Rises. If you were ready, however, Christopher Nolan was ready to satisfy your anticipation.  The Dark Knight Rises was three hours of beautifully constructed character development and engaging storytelling. The engaging performances by each member of the cast created an incredibly inspiring ensamble of actors. Tom Hardy once again shined, doing justice to the famous Batman foe, Bane. The iconic comic frame of Bane breaking Batman's spine was also included in the film, even with his phrase of 'I will break you'. 

Marion Cotillard also brought her incredible talent to the set, and was incredibly deceiving, playing all twisted aspects of Tali al Ghul to a tee. Also debuting in the trilogy was Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle, who is never once referred to as Catwoman. I had my doubts about her, I admit, but I was wrong. But Joseph Gordon Levitt once again might have stolen the show. Don't get me wrong, Christian Bale turned in another fantastic performance. I think, of the three, we saw the most range of his Bruce Wayne in this film and he ended his tenure in Gotham beautifully. But Levitt, who is always a joy to watch was a surprise to us all, and although he wasn't playing Dick Grayson or Jason Todd, the revelation of his first name being 'Robin' is an unmistakable reference to The Boy Wonder. Nolan said the character of Robin would never appear in his trilogy, and he didn't. For the most part, Nolan never altered the Batman universe too extremely. But making Detective Blake an orphan, and named Robin, set him up in the same fashion both Robins were for their tenure as The Dark Knight. (Fun fact, Blake was becoming Batman at the end of the film, not Robin. Just saying.) 

The fights, the costumes, the effects...I really was blown away by it all. The atmosphere they created with the overtaken Gotham City was powerfully striking and shouted echoes of 1984 and Brave New World (and Nazi Germany/France for that matter).

The pacing, the music, the was great. A perfect ending to a wonderfully entertaining story. Hats off to the Nolan Trilogy family on an incredible achievement. If they get the record, the deserve it. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

2012 Emmy Nominations and Predictions

Now, unlike the years past, I'm no longer what you call 'in the loop' for most of primetime television. I do, in fact find this embarrassing. Nevertheless, I know how this game goes so I offer some predictions and commentary on what I do know. 

Should Win
Will Win

Best Comedy Series
"The Big Bang Theory"
"Curb Your Enthusiasm"
"Modern Family"
"30 Rock"

 I am out of the loop on both of these equally, but I know what the people say and I know what critics say. Big Bang has been on a roll, but I highly doubt it will be able to defeat the beloved Modern Family. For the past two years the show has dominated, and I expect it will again.

Best Actress in a Comedy Series
Zooey Deschanel, "New Girl"
Lena Dunham, "Girls"
Edie Falco, "Nurse Jackie"
Tina Fey, "30 Rock"
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, "Veep"
Melissa McCarthy, "Mike and Molly"
Amy Poehler, "Parks and Recreation" 

 A bold predictions, as I literally have no zero ground to stand on here. But I, and many others adore Amy, so she is my shot in the dark for this one.

Best Actor in a Comedy Series
Alec Baldwin, "30 Rock"
Don Cheadle, "House of Lies"
Louis C.K., "Louie"
Jon Cryer, "Two and a Half Men"
Larry David, "Curb Your Enthusiasm"
Jim Parsons, "The Big Bang Theory"

 Critics are also a big fan of Louie and I really hope he comes out on top. His pseudo-biographical show shows a very intimate part of himself and I truly hope he has to get up and make a speech. I say has to, because, of course, he won't want to be bothered by it.

Best Drama Series
"Boardwalk Empire"
"Breaking Bad"
"Downton Abbey"
"Game of Thrones"
"Mad Men"

I'm way behind on Bad, but I know what kind of punch it packs. Abbey, however, has been a critical as well as a rating Juggernaut. It won't surprise me at all to see it out on top. Nor would Mad Men, or Boardwalk

Best Actress in a Drama Series
Kathy Bates, "Harry's Law"
Glenn Close, "Damages"

Claire Danes, "Homeland"
Michelle Dockery, "Downton Abbey"
Julianna Margulies, "The Good Wife"
Elisabeth Moss, "Mad Men"

Bates, to me, is constantly overlooked when it comes to award season. Everyone knows of her talent, but rarely is she congratulated for it. I hope she is this year.

Best Actor in a Drama Series
Hugh Bonneville, "Downton Abbey"
Steve Buscemi, "Boardwalk Empire"
Bryan Cranston, "Breaking Bad"
Michael C. Hall, "Dexter"
Jon Hamm, "Mad Men"
Damian Lewis, "Homeland"

 Now this is interesting. This last season of Dexter was not my favorite, and I know many people complain about actors winning awards for 'a season after they deserved it'. I call bullshit. When it comes to television history, nobody cares about individual seasons when it comes to the portrayal of a character. Unlikes film and theatre, television characters live much longer and actors work on their development for years, sometimes decades (ex: Fraiser Crane). They have to deal with different showrunners, directors, and writers while still making their own mark on the character. Michael C. Hall is long over due, and Cranston, brilliant as he is has been awarded several times over. Ultimately, I think he'll pull it off, just as he will next year for this final season.

Best Miniseries or Movie
"American Horror Story"
"Game Change"
"Hatfields and McCoys"
"Hemingway and Gellhorn"

It will be a tragedy for Hatfields and McCoys to lose. As History's first real mini-series, the show was a homerun. The entire cast was brilliant and the writing was both phenomenally entertaining as well as educational. I will be enraged if it doesn't bring home some gold.

Best Actress Miniseries or Movie
Connie Britton, "American Horror Story"
Ashey Judd, "Missing"
Nicole Kidman, "Hemingway and Gellhorn"
Julianne Moore, "Game Change"
Emma Thompson, "The Song of Lunch"

Didn't see any of them...but I love Julianne. That's all I've got on this one.
Best Actor in a Miniseries or Movie
Kevin Costner, "Hatfields and McCoys"
Beneditch Cumberbach, "Sherlock"
Idris Elba, "Luther"
Woody Harrelson, "Game Change"
Clive Owen, "Hemingway and Gellhorn"
Bill Paxton, "Hatfields and McCoys" 

 And just like that, Costner proved to everyone he's still got it. He was incredible. Incredible. From an acting standpoint, his performance will stick in my mind. I'd be equally fine with Paxton winning, but ultimately I think that Costner should get it, and will get it, for comeback purposes. 

Outstanding Host: Reality-Competition Program
Tom Bergeron, "Dancing With the Stars"
Cat Deeley, "So You Think You Can Dance"
Phil Keoghan, "The Amazing Race"
Ryan Seacrest, "American Idol"
Betty White, "Betty White's Off Their Rockers" 

Let's be real. She's still working, and still awesome, for her age.

Reality-Competition Program
"The Amazing Race"'
"Dancing swith the Stars"
"Project Runway"
"So You Think You Can Dance"
"Top Chef"
"The Voice"

Variety Series
"The Colbert Report"
"The Daily Show with Jon Stewart"
"Jimmy Kimmel Live! "
Late Night With Jimmy Fallon"
"Real Time WIth Bill Maher"
"Saturday Night Live"

To be honest, I really don't care about either of these categories. Haven't watched reality TV in ages and all of the Variety shows don't deserve to win. SNL needs a comeback desperately, Colbert and Daily Show are the same as they always have been and we're tired of Stewart winning. Fallon is lackluster and Maher is, well, Maher.  I'm hoping for Kimmel who is at least original.

That's what I got for ya.  Enjoy.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Newsflash: Sorkin is Back

Too damn long.

That's how I would measure the hiatus of Aaron Sorkin from television. The mastermind behind Sports Night, The West Wing, and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is back on HBO with The Newsroom, a new drama following Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) and the rest of his news team at the fictional Atlantis Cable News Network. 

I delayed writing about the show until now for one main reason: I didn't want to jump the gun based solely on one or two episodes. Now four in, I simply cannot help myself: this show is brilliant. The way the show integrates a fictional news team into real life events is, thus far, seamlessly done. The cast, led by Daniels but also includes Emily Mortimer, John Gallagher Jr, Dev Patel, Sam Waterston and (occasionally) Jane Fonda, bring to life expertly crafted characters that, by the end of the pilot, I was already highly invested in. Daniels' McAvoy is just the right amount of tortured asshole you can love and root for, and this last episode proved it. His celebration, mid-show, after deciding not to pronounce Gabriel Giffords' as DOA at the hospital transferred through the screen and directly to my heart, and I was punching the air with delight right along with him. Aside from individual performances, this group make a brilliant team; both as a news crew and as an acting ensemble. From an acting and directing perspective, you can tell they all get each other and are absolutely grounded in the same realm. This may sound strange, but you can see the same type of cast chemistry in The Office those people are a family both on and off set, and you can feel that when either of these shows end it will be a very sad day at that studio...and that feeling is perhaps the keystone to this show.

By depicting actual events (BP oil spill, 2010 congressional election, Gabriel Giffords' shooting) help the audience to immediately sink into the drama of the moment, partially because we have already been there. It is also not all news drama. As with all Sorkin's work, there are relationship storylines built in that help to drive the main plot forward. In this case, they were introduced in the very first episode...which worried me. I thought they may become a little overbearing (which they did, to an extent, become in Studio 60) but much to my delight, I was proven wrong. Thus far the relationship storylines have been done with nothing but class, and careful planning. 

But points also have to be given to HBO. Very rarely does the network debut a true-to-form 'dud'. Hung is the only thing that comes close, but even that didn't start going down the tubes until its' second season. As a mini-series, the first season was great. People often complain about the networks prices, but, at least you know you'll be getting what you pay for.

Anyway, just a quick blurb about some truly great television; there isn't a lot of it left, so I always try to honor the examples I come across.  

But don't take my word for it: HBO was kind enough to put the whole pilot on YouTube, so please...enjoy. It can't be embedded...but the link is below.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

"Amazing Spider-Man" Review

Yes, friends, I've returned once more, and as most of you have probably picked up on by now, for every six-month absence I take I typically come back with a new format for this little Blogger account, so here we go with this one. Once again I'll attempt to write here more often but as I am desperately attempting to finish my two-year saga that is my play "Thick as Thieves", as well work through my summer reading list, I suppose we shall see just how successful I am.

But review (spoilers included):

The title "The Amazing Spider-Man" is a fantastic way to describe this reboot versus Sam Raimi's original trilogy.  While I maintain that "Spider-Man 2" is one of the best good ol' fashioned superhero movies there is, this re-imagining goes well beyond a simple action movie and easily claims the title of best Spidy Film to date.

Andrew Garfield's Peter Parker is much closer to the version I always imagined from the comic books, whereas McGuire's was definitely set in a fading '90s style. It worked well for movies, but didn't capture the character at all. Garfield's Parker kept the nerd, but added the wit and whimsical nature everyone loved about the character. Parker works best as an unpopular Marty McFly. Even as the character became more tortured and hardened as the film drew to a close, it remained in-tact to the comic character's true nature, and always stayed in the developmental stage. Ending the film without a complete 'origin story' was the only way to truly appreciate Parker's journey.

The film didn't rush anything. No intro for Norman Osborn. No Daily Bugle. I assume at least the latter will come in the second of "at least three" films, as the official statement says. I loved the pacing of the film. It felt long and short at the same time and the writing was spot on. Although I was expecting Uncle Ben's signature phrase of "with great power comes great responsibility" to make an appearance, I assume it was cut for its horrendous over-usage in the three previous films. A paraphrased version was worked in there, brilliantly hidden by the always wonderful Martin Sheen.

But honestly, the casting department knocked this one out of the park. Martin Sheen and Sally Field as Uncle Ben and Aunt May, Rhys Ifans as Lizard/Dr. Connors...everyone was terrific.

My only complaint is the over-usage of CGI. Although I despise wasn't bad in this one, but they slapped me in the face with graphics. I understand for a lot of the shots it was a necessity, but at some points it got a little annoying.  Although, one could argue the graphics do add a certain 'comic strip' feel to the film, I would retort that more often than not it didn't work, at least not to it's full capacity.

But aside from that, I really have no complaints about this one at all, and am already excited to see the next one. Speaking of which...

As for that credits scene (an apparent standard for all Marvel films) it is a little hard to guess who the mystery figure who knows 'the truth about [Parker's] father' is.  The series is clearly diverting from the traditional Spiderman plot, so it makes it harder to judge. Norman Osborn/Green Goblin seems like an obvious choice, since he seems to know Connors well. But in a recent interview Ifans said that it was "definitely not Norman Osborn". So there goes that. It is pretty clear they are setting up Green Goblin to act in the trilogy what he should have been in the first films: Spider-Man's archenemy...not the first villain to go. Personally, I'd like to see him be introduced late in 2, and be the focus of the third film...but we'll see. Since he worked with Connors in this new plot, it could be Morbius, but more likely it is someone who is much better known like Vulture...especially with the way his voice sounded.

So those are my villain predictions: Vulture...maybe Morbius, but unlikely...he isn't well-known enough. I'd love to say Kingpin, but he wasn't nearly fat enough. Perhaps the last film will be a Kingpin-Goblin double feature?!  Of course, I suppose they need to work Venom in there... hopefully they'll do him right this time.
The Shadowy figure at the end of "The Amazing Spider-man"

Then again...there's always Mysterio.